Nick Galvin finds a lovely Leura garden and some reassuring chintz.
When I mention to a colleague that I'm off to Leura for the weekend, she asks: "Where do you go that's not all chintz and polished brass?"
Frankly, she's missing the point. Leura is not Surry Hills at 1000 metres. Chintz and polished brass is precisely why you go there.
The other main reason for me to go to the Blue Mountains at this time of year is for some proper weather and to rug up in the jumpers and ridiculous beanies of my youth in northern England. There is the added advantage of sitting by the fire with a good book and a goldfish bowl of merlot without feeling even slightly guilty.
In all these measures - from chintziness to its potential for merlot-soaked lolling around - Ravenswood does not disappoint.
Viewed from the street, however, the house is far from promising. About three minutes' drive from the centre of Leura and at the bottom of a steep hill, Ravenswood presents a plain brick facade to the world. But it turns out to be something of a Tardis.
Inside, it is beautifully furnished with big floral-print lounges arranged around a welcoming Jetmaster fire. The lounge room is enormous and leads to a modern kitchen with the sort of appliances that immediately prompts my wife to mention the pathetic state of our own kitchen. And in what I always regard as a very encouraging sign, the kitchen is equipped with quality pans and decent knives.
Beyond is an elegant dining room with a huge timber table that comfortably accommodates our party of seven. The dining room leads on to an English-style, slate-floored conservatory that turns out to be the perfect spot to soak up the wintry sun. Three bedrooms and two bathrooms complete the elegant picture.
Next morning Ravenswood has one more treat in store when its large, beautifully planned cold-climate garden is revealed. It is a space begging for games of hide-and-seek and larking about, as the two youngest members of the party discover with glee. It's not often you can recommend a holiday house purely on the basis of its garden but this one really is that good. I can only imagine how pleasant it might be to sit here in summer.
Later we drag ourselves away from the house to take in Scenic World, the cheesy new name for the attraction that brings together the incline railway, the skyway (a gondola that takes you 270 metres above the valley floor) and a cable-car arrangement that removes the need for any tedious stair-climbing once you have descended to the bottom of the valley. It's all great fun and good value ($48 for a family), though the queues are tediously long.
Far more relaxing are a couple of hours spent later that afternoon poking around the antique and book shops of Katoomba. The jewel in the Katoomba bookstore crown is Mr Pickwick's Fine Old Books, with its avuncular owner, Guy Weller, and three floors of books, antiques and miscellany. It's possible to pass half a day here, although it's a little sad to think that, with the advent of the internet, the chances of finding an underpriced treasure whose value only you recognise are much reduced. Still, I live in hope.
Katoomba always seems a lot more down-to-earth than its upmarket neighbour, Leura. It's a sort of Newtown to Leura's Mosman and it's my personal choice.
Next day we leave Ravenswood and its magnificent garden. But I do have one more treat in store for our guests (my sister-in-law and her two sons visiting from England). We stop at Faulconbridge and the Norman Lindsay Gallery. The cafe there is a gem and it's great fun exploring the cheerfully bonkers world of Lindsay (what was he thinking when he wrote The Magic Pudding?)
Then it's down the mountains to real life at sea level, with nary a floral-print lounge or bag of potpourri in sight.
Reviews are conducted anonymously and paid for by Traveller.
30 Kurrawang Street, Leura.
A delightfully elegant and comfortable home with a stunning garden to explore. The epitome of what a Blue Mountains weekend should be.
$300 a night (minimum two nights). BYO linen or hire it for $60. However, if you arrive after office hours, agents Raine & Horne will charge an enormously irritating $15 to leave the key at the house.
Phone 4782 2822.
About 90 minutes' drive from the centre of Sydney.
Parents who want to turn the kids loose in the garden while they enjoy a glass of wine and a good book.
While you're there
Explore the shops and cafes of Katoomba and Leura; take one of the dozens of short bushwalks; visit the Norman Lindsay Gallery at Faulconbridge.